Kathy Weinberg, “The Swing,” 2016, glazed ceramic Photo by Daniel Kany

The Maine coast is dotted with tiny hamlets that have deep roots in the arts. With the shift in the national art market – social media, artist websites, the growth of artist-run nonprofits and, among so many other factors, the general changing of the role of commercial galleries – it’s interesting to watch the effect on such artsy towns.

In addition, Maine’s tourism model has evolved over the past few decades from being almost exclusively experiential – camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, boating and beaches – to a more cultural model featuring dining and shopping, comfortable rather than campy accommodations, museums and galleries.

Camden, for example, was once a leading gallery town. And while it seemed to dry up completely for a few years, it is now bouncing back with serious venues that feature contemporary art as well as art of the Maine landscape.

Belfast, on the other hand, has maintained a broad level of more varied types of art venues. In 2005, Waterfall Arts moved into the 1935 elementary school in downtown Belfast where it now hosts exhibitions, classes, concerts and workshops. Chase’s Daily, for example, is a restaurant and green grocer, but with its soaring walls and comfortable space, it makes for one of the most appealing venues in the area for showing even large-scale paintings – an element of the business known as Perimeter Gallery. Next door, the Belfast Framer & Betts Gallery is accessible through another Main Street shop and has been continuously mounting solid shows for the past seven years.

These are just a few of the arts venues in Belfast, but they all stood out for various reasons during a recent visit.

At Waterfall Arts, a strong show of paintings by Jarid del Deo and Portland gallery Able Baker Contemporary’s Hilary Irons was just wrapping up its run during my visit and has now been replaced by the much-anticipated “Gallery Closed” exhibition curated by noted conceptualist art bad-boy Kenny Cole.

Irons also curated the current Perimeter Gallery show, “Magic Mirror,” featuring the paintings of Breehan James and Alexae Levin.

Levin’s work is based on largely bilaterally symmetrical abstract forms that have an intentionally uncomfortable anthropomorphic feeling to them: Their logic is vertically symmetrical, but their execution is organic. The effect is less of a left/right mirrored set of forms than the encounter with another bilaterally symmetrical organism. The result is something like Frankensteinian mandalas that, at their best moments, seem to be peering back at the viewer with a monstrous – though nascent – intelligence.

“Cottage Painting: Owls,” oil on canvas, 36”x48”, 2019 Photo courtesy of the artist

James’ paintings are hilariously ironic. In “Cottage Painting: Grouse,” a bird flies in a woody landscape, except the grouse is taken from (and painted in the style of) wallpaper, so it sits still and flatly on the surface of a landscape painting with its standard portrayal of depth and space. In another work, we spy a pair of owls staring at us from a bare stand of tree trunks. But the owls look as though they were torn from (or escaped from) pages of a book, with deckled-edges of paper still surrounding them. Floating throughout the coldly even blue sky are motes: Some look like blue or orange snowflakes – until we notice that several are flowers. At that point, they all become flat decorative elements (from the 1970s – campy stuff) on the surface of the painting.

James’ handling of paint is loose and confident. It finds its casual flatness with an almost offhanded confidence that suits the work perfectly.

The exhibition “Dimensional” at Betts Gallery could hardly be more different from the sparely hung space of Perimeter where there were just a few paintings on vast expanses of wall. Betts is a tiny, intimate gallery now filled with sculptures and assemblages by a dozen local artists.

Most noticeable and notable is Norman Tinker’s “Sailing to an Unknown Land” made in 2007 from the “innards of an old toaster.” Sculpturally, the ship-like form is exquisite, like a magical model. While it is a playful, excited and energized work, its palpable sense of mystery undoubtedly led Tinker to select the work for the exhibition. He died on June 25 while quite aware of his mortal situation. It is a beautiful and apt epitaph for the sculptor, an active member of the local arts communities.

J.T. Gibson’s “Mariner’s Dream #1” is a 5-inch patinated bronze cube that looks like it could be an oceanographer’s sample of the sea. As an object, it is beautifully executed, playing its sea-blue tinting and ripple-topped form to jewel-like perfection on this diminutive scale. From across the room, it’s hard not to mentally pair it with Tinker’s mad-explorer’s dream ship.

The other remarkable pair in the room comprises the works of Kathy Weinberg and Jeffrey Ackerman. Weinberg’s four clay-sculpted wall tiles riff overtly on the classical treatment of everyday themes: A circle of woven-wheat laurels honor a tree with an old tire swing with playfully. The hole of the tire is echoed by a cartoonishly cliche hole in the tree and again by the portal-like laurel forms. In other pieces, we are allowed to choose whether, for example, a figure is an alchemist or a bartender. (Is there a difference? Maybe not.) A scene of a couple watching television is riotously titled “Annunciation/Daily News.”

Standing next to Weinberg’s work is a pedestal featuring a group of small sculptures by Ackerman. These also riff on classical motifs, but they are dug more deeply into their ancient architecture sources. Ackerman gathers often-overlooked ornamental details and recombines these into works that hover between figuration and abstraction – no small feat considering he is mining outdated decorative languages from eras that long pre-date the possibilities of our contemporary understanding of abstraction and its stand-alone mode of meaning.

In short, 2019 is a blossoming year in Belfast. There are many venues mounting good shows and the local artist communities are hardly locked into the same-old same old. And if this is any indication of what’s happening around Maine, then, in terms of art at least, things are moving in a very good direction.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Norman Tinker, “Sailing to an Unknown Land,” 2007, innards of an old toaster Photo by Daniel Kany


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